East Anglia: Businesses ‘not won over’ on A14 toll plans

BUSINESS is “yet to be won over” on the case for tolling the A14 to help pay for improvements to it, business leaders have warned.

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has given a cautious welcome to last week’s Government announcement on major investment and improvements along the A14 dual carriageway between Cambridge and the A1 at Huntingdon in a bid to cut congestion.

The work, estimated to cost around �1billion to �1.5bn, includes the widening and ‘enhancing’ of 20 miles of road and building two parallel roads north of Cambridge for local traffic.

Funding would be provided by the introduction of a poll, the Department of Transport said.

Suffolk Chamber chief executive said the A14 played “a fundamental part” in the daily operation of the Suffolk economy and business would welcome the improvements.

But he added that local firms were “scratching their heads” at the proposed schedule, which would not see construction start before 2018.

“Nevertheless, the eventual outcome has long been sought and better to have something in eight to 10 years’ time than not at all,” he said.

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But he added: “Business is yet to be won over on the case for a toll as the remedy for the A14.

“Firms across our county as well as those coming through Suffolk to the ports are working harder than ever to keep their heads above the water at a difficult economic time. It is vital therefore that any tariffs are set at the right level and do not punish commerce.”

The exact details of the toll, including the length of the tolled section, how users would pay and what the tariff will be, have not yet been decided.

The logistics industry using the Haven ports and Suffolk businesses were “encouraged” to hear that the Government is intent on sorting out the bottleneck on the A14, especially as it is set alongside the other important announcements about rail infrastructure that include improvements to the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line which will lead to further freight traffic being taken off the A14, the Chamber said.

Earlier this year, Suffolk Chamber undertook a county wide survey of business to gauge its view on improving the A14.

The results of the survey showed that while just under 55% of businesses would like the option of a toll road for the A14 section, just over two thirds (68%) would not be willing to pay �5 to use it.

“Businesses tell the chamber they would consider accepting tolling that reflects the value of the new road scheme to their activity,” Mr Dugmore said.

“They would not accept tolls that cut into competitive margins and place business in this area and especially the ports at a disadvantage. There will be no tolling along routes out of Southampton, for instance, which is also a major container port.”

The A14 Project Group will begin detailed work in September. Mr Dugmore said chamber members will expect that any emerging tolling mechanisms are sensitive to business in Suffolk and the Haven ports as well as local traffic in Cambridgeshire.

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce survey also showed just over 61% of respondents do not think tolling of the Fen Ditton section would have a direct positive impact on the local economy.